15 Cell Phone and Internet Safety Tips Every Parent Must Know

Safety tips you must practice if your child has a mobile device

children on sofa with cell phones and tabliets
If your child uses a device that goes online, you must know these safety tips. Jamie Grill/JGI/Getty Images

Cell phones and other mobile devices that allow kids access to the internet are a growing reality these days, and research indicates that younger school-age children are increasingly among those who are swiping, typing, and clicking on their mobile devices. As many as 66 percent of kids ages 8 to 18 have their own cell phones, according to a 2010 Kaiser Family Foundation report. And a 2011 study conducted by Elizabeth Englander of Bridgewater State University, Massachusetts, found that by grade 3, 18 to 20 percent of kids polled in Massachusetts said to have their own cell phone.

By grade 4, that number goes up to 25 to 26 percent, and by grade 5, as many as 39 percent report having a cell phone. (Studies also show that more people are worried about kids sexting and being safe online today.)

With all those young eyes and minds surfing, playing games, Instagramming, texting, and more, it's imperative that parents today know about the dangers their kids could encounter and what steps they need to take to protect them. Here are some important online safety tips all parents need to know:

  1. Remind your child that things she posts can live forever and spread. If she wants to share an embarrassing photo of her kid brother or a friend, she won't be able to control how far it goes or where it ends up.
  2. Get your child used to the idea of you having access to his cell phone, email, social media, and any other accounts. The earlier you get your child into the habit of knowing that you can see what he's doing, the better; you can always taper off the monitoring later as kids get older, but privacy should not be your first concern when it comes to what young children are seeing or doing on their screens. (Older kids may balk at mom or dad looking at their personal messages, but all children, especially younger grade-schoolers, need to know that a parent's job is to protect them, and that means having the ability to keep an eye on their texts, emails, social media activity, and anything else that could potentially become dangerous or harmful for them.) Remind your child that using these devices is a privilege, and that while you may not read every single thing he writes, posts, or receives, you will be a protective presence, and may occasionally monitor his cellular and online activity.
  1. Know your child's friends, both online and off. Keep in mind that chats within video game systems and platforms can disappear, so be aware who your child is talking to online and restrict his communication to only friends he knows in real life. And if your child loves hanging out with friends whose parents allow unlimited access to violent or inappropriate video games or other media, insist that they come to your house when you are there for play dates.
  1. Go over the rules and responsibilities of mobile devices. In your home, you may decide that kids have to turn off cell phones by a certain time each night or have everyone--including yourself--put cell phones in a central area when you walk in the door so that you're not tempted to constantly check it. You may want to set a rule that all screens--tablets, computers, the TV--must be turned off by dinner or bedtime each evening. Whatever rules you think work best for your family, be consistent and try to follow them yourself.
  2. Consider using parental controls. Contact your cell phone service provider or check the phone itself to see if you can find a parental control feature that works for you. For tablets and computers, check with your internet service provider about parent-control options that block certain content, or look for parental control software that can block certain sites, prevent kids from clearing browser histories, and more.
  3. Talk to them about cyberbullying. Go over what it is, why sending hurtful or harassing messages through a screen can be just as harmful as physically harming someone, and what to do if it happens to them or to someone they know.
  4. Let her know that you'll always help her. Explain to your child that she should come to you as soon as she receives a threatening, hurtful, or bullying email, text, or post, and to never respond to such messages.
  1. Keep your child's room screen-free. Remove computers, tablets, and cell phones from your child's bedroom. (A laptop is a better choice for kids since you can take them out of their room for the night.) While you're at it, make your child's room TV-free since any electronic screen can interfere with kids falling asleep and getting the amount of sleep they need.
  2. Go over privacy rules. Remind her to never, ever give out her personal information such as her name, her address, phone number, or the name or location of her school.
  3. Make sure you can see what your child is doing on the computer. Just being in the same room isn't enough if you don't have a full view of the screen.
  1. Put the online world in perspective for your child. Explain to your child that something he sees online may not be real, and that someone who tries to chat with him and says he's also a kid may not be who he says he is. And all those happy posts from his friends on Instagram or Facebook? That's because people usually post happy or seemingly-happy moments, and don't share the times when they aren't happy or something isn't going their way.
  2. Don't forget about online access when your child is on a play date. Where is the computer in your child's friend's home? What sort of internet access will they have on the electronic devices in that home? And who will be supervising? Ask these and other important questions about safety before the play date.
  3. Don't assume your child knows and remembers all the rules and won't make a mistake. Young children naturally forget things like safety rules, especially when they're distracted and excited about something, like being with friends.
  4. Go over internet safety rules periodically--doing it once won't be enough. The best way to reinforce internet safety precautions is to repeat rules once in a while when you're on the computer together or playing a game.
  5. Parents should also know the warning signs that their child may be in danger online:
  • Spending a lot of time online, particularly at night
  • Finding pornography on their child's computer
  • Child receiving gifts or phone calls from people you don't know
  • Child becoming withdrawn
  • Child turning off the monitor or changing the screen quickly when you enter the room

    If you see these signs, take steps to block all communication and talk to your child immediately about the dangers of online predators. (For more tips, read the FBI's "A Parent's Guide to Internet Safety.")​

    Contact your local law-enforcement agency or the FBI immediately if your child or anyone in your home receives child pornography; if your child is sexually solicited by someone or receives sexually explicit images from someone who knows that your child is under 18 years of age.

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